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Reading: something you MUST love, or perhaps a tool to aid communication?

I am going to preface this by saying that it is all based on my own personal opinion, experience and dogmas. I’m not citing research and do not claim to be a guru on the matter. Also, that the ideas in the heading are not mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other, but you can also have both.

Now to my thoughts.

The current views that we MUST teaching children to LOVE reading, that reading for pleasure is VITAL, and that if kids don’t love it, it’s because we’ve not found them ‘that’ book yet, get my goat. I have read a few articles on the Times Ed about reading for pleasure.  Some of them are quite sensible and seem to really be promoting reading as an important tool to empower kids with knowledge, which they may also love. Others seem very dogmatic in their stance that “reading is pleasurable and enjoyable”, as though any opinion that diverges from this point is erroneous, and not repeatable in a classroom setting. I just don’t agree with it, and we need to give kids space in our classrooms to find reading tricky, or not to enjoy it.

I agree with the sentiment that we should, as teachers, promote reading as vital, as a lifeskill, as a tool to access a myriad of disciplines, information and networks. But for some that is all reading is: a tool, something they can do because it’s useful. It may not for all children turn into that thing they love, or something that takes their soul because they can immerse themselves in another world, brought to life between the covers of a book. For some children that will happen, and that is great. For others, it just won’t.

I am one of them. I read a lot: technical journals, research papers, teaching documentation, government papers (the gossip pages of the Daily Fail from time to time but shhhh!). But I don’t find it particularly pleasurable. I just don’t. I get information and I use that but I would much rather talk things through or watch the film. Does it mean I can’t read or that my parents messed up when I was younger by not reading to me enough? NO. (For the record team Newton was amazing and did support me). I just didn’t take reading into my soul like some people do.

I like biking. That, I have taken into my soul and I love it. I’m not the best cyclist in the world, by any stretch of the imagination, or the ham-string but I can ride and bike and I love the feeling of the wind between my ears. However, does every person who rides their bike to get to school or to work love biking and feel that rush when they go up a hill to whizz down the other side. I would conjecture that they don’t. And that is OK. Not everyone loves biking. For some it is a tool they can do that facilitates other aspects of their life and allows them to access work or school. That really is OK.

We need to allow children and young people (and adults too) the space to just get on with reading, not to love it but just to plod on with it, improving through regular practice of reading whatever they fancy. But to continually bombard kids with the notion that they “must read for pleasure” because “reading IS fun” risks alienating those kids who don’t particularly like it, or who find it tricky.

We don’t promote the message “algebra for pleasure”- indeed it seems OK to declare oneself innumerate, “cos I can’t do maths!” – and yet algebra is also an incredibly important aspect of maths, useful in everyday life as a tool to understand concepts and communicate complex ideas or models. Kids are allowed not to like it (which is fine by the way).

We need to give kids that same freedom with reading.